And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and
beheld how the people cast money into the
treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she
threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And
he called unto him his disciples, and saith
unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this
poor widow hath cast more in, than all they
which have cast into the treasury: For all they
did cast in of their abundance; but she of her
want did cast in all that she had, even all her
Mark 12:41-44. (See also Luke 21:1-4.)
These verses from the book of Mark have been used in
sermons on Christian stewardship more than a few times.
However, if we consider the facts, we might wonder what
lesson the passage teaches about why we as believers
should contribute to the work of the church. Maybe we
should give all the money we have or maybe we should at
least give enough to force us to do without food once in
a while. It is instructive to read the passages where
Paul instructed the churches as to giving of their means.
In the fifteenth chapter of Romans, he writes:
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto
the saints. For it hath pleased them of
Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain
contribution for the poor saints which are
at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily;
and their debtors they are. For if the
Gentiles have been made partakers of their
spiritual things, their duty is also to
minister unto them in carnal things.
Here, Paul mentions the plight of believers at Jerusalem
and the giving to their welfare by members of other
churches. Without giving any request or demand to the
Romans, he lets them know of an opportunity to take part
in what he considers to be a good work. He also refers
to the financial support as being proper because the
gentiles have shared in spiritual blessings.
continued at top of next column
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul is more firm in his admonishment to send relief to the church at Jerusalem:
Now concerning the collection for the saints,
as I have given order to the churches of
Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day
of the week let every one of you lay by him
in store, as God hath prospered him, that
there be no gatherings when I come. And when
I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your
letters, them will I send to bring your
liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet
that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I
will come unto you, when I shall pass through
Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia.
I Corinthians 16:1-5.
He does remind the Corinthians that he will be going to
them by way of Macedonia. The church at Philippi had
a reputation for being generous to the saints at
Jerusalem as indicated by his comments to the Romans.
So, perhaps he was using the possibility of embarrassment
as a motivator to have their contributions collected
before he arrived. After all, there might be a
delegation from Philippi traveling with Paul.
The English expression I have given order is much stronger than the Greek word diatasso, which, in this case, has to do with prescribing suitable arrangements. And, since the record doesn't indicate that Paul had pressured the Romans to send money to Jerusalem, it appears that he was responding to certain churches' volunteered promises to do so. In fact, a later statement by Paul would lead to the same conclusion:
For as touching the ministering to the
saints, it is superfluous for me to
write to you: For I know the forwardness
of your mind, for which I boast of you to
them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready
a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked
very many. Yet have I sent the brethren,
lest our boasting of you should be in vain
in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be
ready: Lest haply if they of Macedonia
come with me, and find you unprepared, we
(that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in
this same confident boasting.
II Corinthians 9:1-4.
As for the Philippians that had given money generously
and promptly, we can read these words:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always
obeyed, not as in my presence only, but
now much more in my absence, work out your
own salvation with fear and trembling.
For it is God which worketh in you both to
will and to do of his good pleasure.
Paul is not telling Christians that they should always be
fearful and trembling and the first three verses of that
chapter give the necessary background:
If there be therefore any consolation in
Christ, if any comfort of love, if any
fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels
and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be
likeminded, having the same love, being
of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing
be done through strife or vainglory; but
in lowliness of mind let each esteem other
better than themselves.
Putting those verses together, we can see that Paul very
diplomatically chastised the Philippians for feeling
proud of themselves for their generosity and letting
others know of that pride. And, he has a few words for
the Corinthians concerning their apparent lack of
interest in providing financial support to him:
For it is written in the law of Moses,
Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the
ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God
take care for oxen?
II Corinthians 9:9.
The quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 summarizes much of the
content of that ninth chapter. He, as an apostle, was
worthy of their support, especially since he had preached
to them personally. He had not requested money and they
hadn't seen fit to offer any.
In writing to Timothy, Paul lets us know that God still ordains a merit system:
Let the elders that rule well be counted
worthy of double honour, especially they
who labour in the word and doctrine.
I Timothy 5:17.
The word translated rule is the Greek proistemi, which
literally means to stand before or preside; not to be a
monarch. And, the emphasis is on feeding God's sheep, not
being strong administrators. The word is translated as
maintain in Titus 3:8 and 3:14, as in maintain good works.
The Revised Standard Version translates it as apply
themselves in the verses in Titus, but translates it as
rule in I Timothy 5:17.
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul delivers a generic exhortation for Christians to provide financial support to the church:
Let him that is taught in the word
communicate unto him that teacheth
in all good things. Be not deceived;
God is not mocked: for whatsoever a
man soweth, that shall he also reap.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall
of the flesh reap corruption; but he
that soweth to the Spirit shall of
the Spirit reap life everlasting.
There are at least two noteworthy points in that passage.
First, the money is to be paid by those being taught to
the ones that do the teaching and the implication is that
the teaching has some spiritual value. But, also the
money paid can be thought of as being invested in an
account that will provide everlasting spiritual returns.
The contrast is with money that we save in a bank or
spend on material things, since all material things
will someday be done away with.
All of the passages quoted here have, in some way, to do with supporting those that provide spiritual sustenance to other Christian by delivering God's word. But, there is no prohibition of using some money for conveniences such as buildings, as long as the preachers are supported first. We have to rely on the judgement of mature Christians as to what expenditures are suitable.
What do Paul's comments about Christian giving have to do with the widow and her two mites? Nothing and everything. She was destitute and not required to pay any tithe under the law, because that tax was a flat ten percent of a family's increase in wealth. In order to understand why Jesus called the disciples' attention to the woman, we have merely to read the three verses immediately prior to the passage quoted at the beginning of this article:
And he said unto them in his doctrine,
Beware of the scribes, which love to go
in long clothing, and love salutations
in the marketplaces, And the chief seats
in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms
at feasts: Which devour widows' houses,
and for a pretence make long prayers:
these shall receive greater damnation.
Mark 12:38-40. (See also Luke 20:46,47.)
Jesus was presenting the woman as a living (so far) example
of a widow whose house the scribes had devoured instead of
seeing to her support as they should have.
The scribes (religious leaders) still are with us and are using every confidence scheme they can imagine to extort and otherwise wheedle money from people that barely have enough income to live on. They are still devouring widows' (and widowers') houses.